Second Life® Bloggers Require Clarification

Disclaimer : The following manifesto has been published by Gwyneth Llewelyn, on her own blog. It is reprinted here to show my support of its intent. All credits for the manifesto itelf go to Gwyn. As I quote it verbatim, I have excepted it from the new terminology in vigour elsewhere on my blog.

Dear Linden Lab®,

Your recent change of policy regarding the usage of your trademarks — Second Life®, Linden Lab®, and others registered by Linden Research Inc. — will effectively prevent the operation of the very vibrant community of bloggers, forum posters, websites, community portals, and even 3rd party services, that have provided Linden Lab® with links and driving traffic to your blog, and raising brand awareness for free for your product Second Life®.

Probably thousands — if not dozens of thousands — of sites include (now illegitimately) the name “Second Life®” or “SL®” somewhere in their names. From sites like Reuters (which has a Second Life® channel) to whole companies that have a “Second Life® Division” (and promotes your product by the explicit naming of it), a plethora of online communities, products, and services — some free, other commercial, many in the limbo between both extremes — include, in some way, your registered trademarks.

Your previous policy, established in May 2004 (”Second Life® Fansite Tolkit”), and later reinforced with referral programmes like “Viva La Evolution”, positively encouraged the widespread use of your trademarks, so long as it was quite clearly displayed that no infringement was intended. To requote your own terms of agreement for the usage of your trademarks:

USE OF SECOND LIFE MARKS

While you are in full compliance with the usage guidelines described here, you may use the “Second Life” name on your website, as well as the related logos and graphics available at Toolkit, solely in the form described there. Additionally, you may use screenshots from Second Life to the extent that Linden Lab has the right to authorize use of the content within such screenshot, including screenshots of Linden in-world objects and Linden avatars, subject to these usage guidelines.

Under those very friendly terms, a plethora of fansites of all sorts popped up, driving traffic to Second Life®’s main website, its blogs, forums, and other related sites — making SL®’s own ranking quite high on Google, Alexa, and other systems — while at the same time, in a period of a little less than four years, allowing the number of registered users to skyrocket from 10,000 to 13 million.

Fansites, blogs, 3rd party sites, Second Life®-related online communities, 3rd party sites that create products and services related to Second Life® are the “off-world” counterpart of the dynamic and enthusiastic community that made Second Life®, as a brand, get world-wide recognition — without the need for Linden Lab® to spend millions in advertising and campaigns on the media. We worked for free on the promotion, brand awareness, and market recognition of your products — while, at the same time, we also worked for free creating the fantastic content of the 3D environment that makes Second Life® a place worth to visit, to enjoy, to chat, to socially connect, to do business, and launch the pillars of the upcoming metaverse — fulfilling Philip ‘Linden®’ Rosedale’s dream of having more users in Second Life® than on the Web.

We’ve been the ones ultimately promoting that vision, spreading it around, and making sure that the world noticed your product and your brand. We were very successful — thanks to your gentle and encouraging former policies.

And for four years, you have been thankful enough to allow us to do that promotion, by establishing very reasonable and clear guidelines of the terms of usage of your trademarks.

Your sudden reversal of position — effectively limiting the display of the name “Second Life®” on most sites, domain names, products, and services, through a mechanism of explicit approval that you fully admit “can take long and might never finish” and will only be available to a very limited number of sites — means that suddenly all the off-world promotion of Second Life® will necessarily have to stop; or face a lawsuit in court; or, at the very least, receive a Cease & Desist letter from your lawyers and be forced to shut down.

The current terms can be aggressively enforced or not. According to your blog, we are supposed to have a 90-day grace period to remove all mentioning of Second Life® and its logo from our fansites, blogs, forums, or 3rd party sites offering products and services related to Second Life®. In fact, what this means is that we are forced not to talk about Second Life® any more — or, if we do, we cannot explicitly name the product at all.

This is, obviously, absurd.

The compromise between Linden Research Inc. (owners of the registered trademarks) and the community of volunteers that have so faithfully promoted your product, Second Life®, was quite clear for the past four years. We had clear guidelines of what we could do and what we couldn’t. Abuses could still be effectively dealt with by your legal department; to the world’s knowledge, these cases were few and scattered, if any. They were not significative to prevent a vast number of dozens of thousands of sites of all sorts to draw traffic to your own site; to reach out the huge audience on the Internet; and to drive new users to register. The numbers fortunately speak for themselves: with almost zero promotional costs, you managed to grow a thousand times in four years, thanks to crowdsourcing the promotion of Second Life®.

The “inSL” programme is definitely interesting, but a small new logo, worthless to an audience of hundreds of millions of users that are familiar with the eye-on-hand logo, without a massive campaign of promotion behind it to reflect the logo change, is not enough. “inSL” doesn’t say much, and it cannot be expanded to talk and promote Second Life® directly. And, anyway, the same restrictions apply to the usage of “inSL” as with all your other trademarks. We appreciate the grant to use that new logo, but we also feel it will be unable to gather the same support and promotional effort as the old logo and the product name did in the past four years.

We would thus kindly request that you clarify your position regarding the usage of the trademarks Second Life® and the logo on all fansites, blogs, forums, or other 3rd party websites offering products and services related to Second Life®. This clarification should be as easy to follow as your previous policies on the usage of those trademarks. They should make clear that all people intending to promote your product and raise your brand awareness are not facing lawsuits because they have faithfully used your trademarks using the old policy, and wish to continue to do so in the future.

We consider that an appropriate response should be forthcoming in the next few days, or we will be forced to shut down our own blogs, websites, forums, community portals, and other 3rd party sites to avoid litigation — and thus deprieving Linden Lab® from the traffic generated by millions of direct links and millions of viewers that learn first about Second Life® through all those sites.

Personal note: This blog will enter on strike on April 15th, 2008, for a period of 3 days, if no clarification by Linden Lab is published before that date.

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16 thoughts on “Second Life® Bloggers Require Clarification

  1. My personal feeling is that it is intended to business entities that want to use the name Second Life (or SL, etc.) to make money with it.

    My blog is named “Second Life at hand” and I will continue posting articles, even with titles that include “Second Life”.

    I will not be on strike but I will post more articles with “Second Life”.

    Qui vivra verra.

  2. Sofian, I don’t normally badger people about their choice, but I think this is one issue where we will all greatly benefit from standing united. The issue at hand, right now, is not hoping or guessing they won’t sue us, but making them pay attention to what worries us. I’ll gladly admit to having been worried for nothing should all this pass without consequences even if they never take notice of us — but I’ll never regret having raised my voice.

    Qui vivra verra ? peut-être. Jusqu’à ce qu’il meure, ayant tout vu sans jamais oser agir.

  3. The reasons of this strike are holy, no doubt.
    But I am firmly convinced that it will be useless. The LLTMs won’t even care about. Beside that “strikes” are a very popular solution in europe but I am not sure about how americans and other residents around the world will understand this decision.
    And what is the proposal of this strike? To quit criticizing and let the people know what is happening? If we do really want to organize a strike, let’s set up a massive campaing and let’s not *LOG IN* in world for a week.
    Unfortunately, companies do understand “lobbysm” and boycotts much more than strikes.
    And who use blogs to promote commercial products/events/services somehow SL related won’t stop posting, I am sure.http
    What about the reader? Well actually I will just find more time to dedicate to other activities like reading other blogs, newspapers and maybe spend more time inworld.
    I totally agree with Gwyn’s statement. But I feel that the right way is to keep “pressing” on them.
    During the 80’s one of the most famous italian presdients who fought against the fascists during WW2, told that “the most chaotic/noisy democracy is much more adviceable than the silence of graveyards”.
    So please, don’t stop making noise SLTM bloggers!
    I am sorry to disagree this time but I know you are willing to appreciate any contribution on this blog 🙂

  4. And I’m sorry to contradict you, but I have to, on two points :

    One, I agree boycotting logins would be a far more effective way to get noticed than a blogger’s strike, but there is a problem with that : right now, the only ones to care are the bloggers, forum maintainers and providers of web services. Should they stop logging in, I would suspect LL would never even notice the dent. So we have to fight the issue on our own ground : publicity. We want publicity for the fact LL is snubbing us in the worst possible manner. And the only way to get it is in a gesture that will get noticed, because dozens (or maybe hundreds) of sites and blogs closing down for three days at the exact same time, showing the same notice, will make a splash publicity-wise.

    Two, people standing by and jeering « Do you really think you’ll make an impression ? The powers that be do not care, will not care, never have, and there is nothing you can do about it, so be good boys and girls, go home » are the staple of any revolt in human history. Mostly, the bystanders were right. Luckily for us all, they still got discounted nearly all the time, because revolutions are made by people who do not listen to this kind of logic. Or there still would be a king on the throne of France, America would still be governed from London and Madrid, and there would be no united Italy either. Garibaldi, Eidur, would not have listened to you.

    The noise of democracy is preferable to the graveyard quiet of dictatorship, I’ll grant you that anytime. But there is a fine line to tread between merry debate and squabbling, complacent denial of things that happen. Sometimes, you just have leave the sideline, close ranks and make some noise. If silence is our noise, so be it.

  5. Then 3 days is a way to short silence and no one will notice it (and you know this).
    Anyway, let’s see what happens (I’d love to be contradicted by facts on this one)…
    According to me… Absolutely nothing.
    I am supporting the rebellion anyway – so be it as you like.
    I am not a blogger so my point is not really important I think :9

  6. I’m in a contradictory mood today, it seems 🙂

    Yes, three days is far too short for Google’s web crawlers to notice anything is amiss, I agree with you on that — but as I said, this is not about hurting LL, be it by undercutting traffic. It is about making our issues a matter of public perception, and in the world of blogging and web media, three days is indeed an eternity.

    And yes, you may be right again, nothing might come of it. But if we try, we can still speak of « might ». If we don’t, we can right now start speaking of « will ».

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  10. Bon Rheta, bien que je ne sois pas convaincue de l’utilité de la chose j’accepte de jouer le jeu et de mettre mon blog en grève le 15 avril prochain pour trois jours, j’ai un livre que j’ai envie de lire depuis longtemps et ce sera une excellente occasion (je ne l’ai pas encore acheté ni même choisi mais je pense que ce sera sur le droit des marques;)

    Ensuite je ferai ce que je veux et je mettrai plein de Second Life partout!

    Sans le ™

  11. it reminds me of the silliness that ensued when adobe printed their ‘guidelines’ for use of their trademarks (specifically Photoshop) and how it could and couldn’t be used… and will probably be ignored just as much… journalistic intent will never be actionable by them it’d be a waste of their time, and accomplish very little, unless someone was a huge influence. The person selling ‘First Bling’ however (which features the SL logo) might neeed to worry (but they should of already been worrying). I will aggre it is a ridiculous distinction for them to make… but I think ultimately harmless.

  12. Dear Void, I wish it was all silliness — the problem being that LL have put compliance to their trademark policy into clause 4.4 of the ToS (where it was before the newest iteration, by the way — they just clarified that), which makes it impossible to ignore them, pleading nominative use or local legislation if you are a resident. That is more than heavy handed and, in conjunction with their demand of use of « generic nouns », the whole thing is very much akin to censorship.

    But even if it was just silliness,this kind of silliness tends to only blow over when people do in fact raise a fuss. The way to go is not « ignore it and it will blow over », I’m very much afraid, but « don’t ignore it if you want it to blow over » 🙂

  13. So Linden lab commented again on their blog, as announced through their PR agency. Surprise, surprise, they do not address even one single issue brought to them, instead reiterating what we know already. See Kit’s comments on the post (here and here) and my own. This should be called « The Same Old Tune on the Trademark Policy « by rights.

  14. Hi Rheta! Thanks for the continued support on this. The new petition is now up; thanks for the huge help, specially when you very well noticed that this new policy of Linden Lab’s allows them to ban first the offending avatars and wait for them to file a lawsuit against LL later to get their avatars back — which very likely most people won’t do.

    According to the latest statistics by Google, about 24 million links are generated for “Second Life” by about ten thousands websites, blogs, etc. Linden Lab’s own pages (ie. their “web promotion” of “Second Life”) generates just a few thousand links. Stopping all those pages to generate traffic would have an influence, but I agree that three days were not enough.

    In any case, the previous request for clarification produced an answer — LL did post a new article, but it didn’t clarify much. So probably we’ll have to be instead more creative. A fun suggestion was to have blogging software automatically replacing “Second Life” and “Linden Lab” by “You-Know-What” and “You-Know-Who”. It would be funny and as effective as shutting down the blogs (and have the same effect of removing the 24 million links in Google, and could go on for a much longer period of time). We’ll continue to discuss this idea.

    Will this make a difference? No. As said, the number of blogs/websites/forums/services in violation of LL’s ToS is small — an estimated 10,000 or so. So LL only needs to ban 10,000 avatars (and some alts) or so. Well, they get more than that every day in new registrations.

    No, the hope is that enough momentum is generated with the protest that the RL media starts writing about it, and asks — bluntly — if LL is trying to use their ToS as a means of curbing freedom of expression, acting as police, judge, jury, and executioner, without going through any lawsuit.

    Thus, if I open a blog called “ilovemymac.com” and Apple has a problem with it, they will need to file a lawsuit in order to protect their trademark and force a takedown notice. In the mean time, my four Macs will not be confiscated. They will be able to get automatic updates. I will be able to send emails to my lawyers using the Macs. And very likely, I will be able to use iChat to talk to other Mac lovers about how much I love my Mac.

    But if I open a blog called “ilovemysecondlife.com”, Linden Lab can immediately ban my avatar, confiscate my money and my land, and remove all my content — without appeal or recourse. I can obviously complain and even file a lawsuit against LL if they refuse to let me in after I’ve removed the offending domain name. But… I won’t be able to talk about it in Second Life. I won’t be able to make T-shirts or signs saying that I love Second Life. I won’t be able to do my evangelising talk in in-world conferences. Effectively, I’ll be a political exile, living in “another country”, but having no way to get back to SL. I don’t even know when that will happen — I don’t need to get a warning first, I can be banned first, and informed later.

    And, as said, all LL needs is to ban about 10,000 avatars or so. It’s really simple to shut them up and let everybody continue to use “the Second Life® world” without infringing any trademark.

    This is a behaviour against freedom of speech (in this case, my right to talk about things I love!) that I cannot tolerate.

    Thanks, Rheta, for pointing out this fundamental issue.

  15. Hi Gwyn ! There’s no need to thank me for the support ; once in a while, there are issues you can’t shirk. I sometimes suspect blogging is mostly just about making smart, funny or simply snide comments on simply anything (whoever once remarked blogging is not a spectator sport is soooo wrong), but to the blogger, the right of free speech should be the cue to leave the sidelines and pick a side. Personally, I’ll choose being hysterically wrong about something I see as endangering our future over keeping my misgivings bottled up and regretting having been proved right for the rest of my life.

    Still, it is a huge relief to me that greater minds than mine seem to think alike, and that I can join them instead of feeling like I’m just throwing tantrums. I want to thank you for driving this effort to bring LL to their senses, dear Gwyn, as well as Cat Magellan and all the others ; you do it with a cool head and good sense I could never have brought to the table. You can be sure of my enduring support.

    We may be 10.000 only, or even less. So what. Let us show history, once again, that sometimes, just sometimes, a minority in the right is all it takes to topple a world.

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